By: C. Harold Pierce
With a blue frock dug out from a bin at the Goodwill and a felt menorah she stitched on the side, Carin Agiman felt like a fool—a real schlemiel. All of her gentile friends could sport fun, stylishly ugly holiday sweaters purchased at designer stores.
She could not. But she was determined to make a change.
“I thought it was crazy that there wasn’t legit Hanukkah sweaters out there,” Agiman said. “So I thought, ‘OK, it’s time.’”
Agiman, a former Santa Ana College student, launched Geltfiend, a Jewish-themed sweater line, in August 2012. She is one of hundreds of retailers peddling holiday sweaters in a trend growing across the country.
“I would get invited to ugly sweater parties, or holiday sweater parties, and it really bummed me out that there wasn’t a Jewish equivalent. I’m not religious at all, but I’m not so unreligious that I would wear a Christmas sweater. I wanted something to be Hanukkah themed,” Agiman said.
American Apparel, American Eagle Outfitters and Urban Outfitters are among the major retailers trotting out lines of holiday sweaters with one seemingly clear objective: the frumpier, louder and uglier, the better.
In fact, the so-ugly-it’s-cute appeal is a huge selling point. Urban Outfitters employee Breeana Skidmore explained that their knitted versions are some of their biggest sellers this season, despite price tags upwards of $50.
“People come in all the time and literally try them on right where they’re folded,” Skidmore said.
Walmart has even unveiled a line of ugly holiday sweaters for dogs.
Despite their cheap appearances, sweaters can range from bargain basement prices at Goodwill to several hundred dollars at Nordstrom.
And sales are booming. Agiman sold 1,700 sweaters across the globe in her first year.
They’ve become so popular that themed parties celebrating the sweaters are now commonplace. Contests are staged, seeking out the frumpiest, most outlandish display of holiday cheer in the room.
The sweaters are embroidered with Christmas clichés from the childhood holiday classics, like “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal,” or “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Others have LED lights that twinkle and dance across the fabric in displays that are sure to catch eyes at holiday parties.
Student Chris Cortez recounts the fun in dressing down and having a party revolving around whose outfit is the worst.
“Mine is red, green and white with the pattern everywhere. It looks like someone vomited Christmas all over it, but that’s the point,” Cortez said.
The novelty of the sweaters normally wear off by January, when they are thrown into the deepest corners of the closet for the next 11 months. Agiman hopes her line of apparel will change their seasonal appeal to a yearlong outfit choice.
“I wanted them to be classy, but maybe a little bit louder, like something you might wear everyday. I’m still wearing my Hanukkah sweater,” Agiman said on a cool spring morning.